Why Are My Cookies Flat?

Flat cookies Getty 9/29/20

Baking is a science. It’s frustrating when your “experiment” fails, but you can usually pinpoint where you went wrong in the process and change your technique for next time. If your cookies turned out a little flatter than expected, don’t despair! Chalk it up to a learning experience and enjoy your pancake cookies. Here’s what you need to know for next time: 

Why Are Your Cookies Flat? 

Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated

Baking ingredients Getty 9/29/20

Wondering what caused your cookies to fall flat? Consider these six factors: 

1. Your butter was too soft. 

“Softened butter” doesn’t mean “super soft” or “melted butter.” The warmer your butter is, the faster it will melt in the oven and cause your cookies to spread. Follow the recipe exactly for best results. If it calls for softened butter, leaving it at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes should do the trick. 

2. You got your flour and sugar ratios wrong. 

We said it once (see above) and we’ll say it again: Follow the recipe exactly for best results. This means carefully measuring dry ingredients—like flour and sugar—in dry measuring cups and using no more or less than is called for. Sugar liquifies when heated, so too much sugar will result in more spreading and flatter cookies. Too little flour, meanwhile, will weaken your cookies’ structure and prevent rising. 

3. You didn’t chill your dough. 

Few things combat spreading as well as chilling your dough before baking (exhibit A: our THICK Bakery-Style Chocolate Chip Cookies). You can usually judge whether cookie dough needs to be chilled by its texture—if the dough feels abnormally sticky or wet, throw it in the fridge for a few minutes to harden it up. Plus, this extra step makes the dough much easier to handle. 

4. You forgot or used too little baking powder.

Baking soda and baking powder both have important roles to play: Baking soda encourages spreading, while baking powder puffs the cookies up. The two ingredients are certainly not interchangeable. Looking for a recipe that emphasizes baking powder over baking soda? Again, you should really check out these THICK Bakery-Style Chocolate Chip Cookies.

5. You reused your baking sheet OR over-greased your baking sheet. 

Your baking sheet plays a more pivotal role than you might think. Make sure the pan is room temperature before placing it in the oven (so don’t use the same baking sheet twice in a row) and don’t over-spray (too much baking spray will cause your cookies to spread). Better yet, use parchment paper or invest in a silicone baking mat. 

Silicone baking sheet

Buy it! Set of 2 silicone baking mats; Amazon, $13.95 (was $14.95)

6. Your oven was too hot. 

This hardly needs to be said, but temperature really matters when it comes to baking cookies. If your oven is too hot, the butter will melt faster than the cookie can solidify and you’ll end up with paper thin cookies. 

Can You Fix a Flat Cookie Fail? 

Cookies in oven Getty 9/29/20

Maybe. Keep your oven light on and check every few minutes to make sure the cookies look sturdy. If you notice they’re falling a little flat, take them out and squish the edges together a bit to create a bulkier cookie. Use a spoon or a butter knife so you don’t burn your fingers. Once they’re the desired size and shape, stick them back in the oven to finish baking. 

Of course, not all flat cookies can be saved—and that’s really OK. They’re still cookies, after all. 

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